The Portuguese American Club of Mineola was filled to capacity for its 75th anniversary celebration dinner on Saturday night, and overflowing with the spirit that had sustained the club as a cultural center since 1936.
"It's a special feeling. We feel honored to keep this house going," said Manuel Ramelhete, president of the club for the past four years. "It's an honor to keep it going on."
In 1936, 53 members of the Portuguese community in Mineola established the club. Creation of the club's soccer team - which won a championship last year - followed two years later. And the club's Portuguese School, which continues to teach Portuguese American children their native language and traditional dances today, was established in 1940. More than 50 children participate in the dance group today.
Ramelhete's two adult children attended the school to learn Portuguese there. So did state Sen. Jack Martins, who attended school there for five years and remembers coming to the club since he was a young child.
"It always been a place where we can come and learn about the history and culture, and learn the language," Martins said.
With increased Portuguese immigration into the area, Martins said the club has remained strong with third and fourth generation Portuguese Americans now involved in activities there.
"This place mirrors the history of the arrival of the Portuguese in Mineola," said Village of Mineola Deputy Mayor Paul Pereira, who was the executive director on the board of directors of the Portuguese School for four years. "It's good to see a full house and a vibrant Portuguese community."
It was a particularly poignant occasion for Ilidio Mendes, a vice president of the club, who was president for its 50th anniversary and is observing 50 years of his involvement with the club this year. He's seen the club grow in membership and physical size over the years from the occasion of its first fundraising event, which collected $4.
"For me, it's fantastic, and I'm planning for the 100th anniversary," the voluble Mendes said.
Club vice president Antonio Rosado, who has been a member for 22 years and past chairman of its board for two years, noted that the members had undertaken interior renovations and painting inside and outside to keep their house in good condition for the watershed anniversary observance.
"It's home away from home," Rosado said.
On Saturday night it was also a kind of homecoming for Michelle Fereira, the 22-year-old graduate of Mineola High School, who performed songs with her band from the debut CD she released recently.
"I'm excited," she said, "excited to see what they think."
The varied styles of her original tunes, ranging from rock to Latin and jazz, drew an enthusiastic response from the hometown crowd. Glasses were raised around the room when she invited her audience to join her in spirit for her final tune of the evening, "Glass of Wine."
Her parents, John and Ida Fereira, were in attendance. Her mother handled CD sales as her husband looked on proudly as their daughter performed.
"This is nice," he said, recalling that he has been a member of the club since 1970.
Along with Pereira, Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss and Trustee Paul Cusato also attended the celebration.
Strauss presented a commendation on behalf of the village, and offered his perspective on the celebration.
"Seventy-five years ago, members of the Portuguese community in Mineola had a vision. And if they were here now, they would be very proud," he said. "Here's to 75 years of commitment and hopefully another one hundred seventy-five years."
Officers of the club presented commendations to many of its members. It was left to Martins, whose election as mayor had been a particular point to pride to his Portuguese American compatriots, to tie the past to the present and the future for his kinsmen.
"The Portuguese community in Mineola is Mineola. This is our house as much as it is anyone else's house" he said. "Remember this continues. And it's going to take all of us working together for another 75 years for it to continue."